keggsThe story of The Keggs plays out like the narrative of a death disc single. A rock n roll band from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, in July of 1967 they recorded their one and only 45 single on Orbit Records. Of the seventy-five copies pressed, most were destroyed during the subsequent 1967 race riots — there are currently ten known copies left in existence. Although they gigged around the midwest playing public pools, VFW halls and backyard birthdays, The Keggs failed to garner critical attention or accrue a serious following of any kind. It wasn’t long into their young career, when the lead singer (or guitarist, depending on which legend you believe) was decapitated in a motorcycle accident on his way to rehearsal. His tragic death ended The Keggs forever; the rest of the members disappeared into slow, irretrievable obscurity.

Whether any of the above is true or the product of a gossipy garage-rock game of telephone is beside the point. What is irrefutable is that “To Find Out” — the A-Side to The Kegg’s sole document — is perhaps the purest, most earnest specimen of punk ever put to wax. A wild, raucous, inept and soulful teen-age dirge. The paragon of rock n roll’s unpretentious, animalistic, primitive cave-man id. In it, one can hear the proto-slop of bands to come — from The Ramones to The Modern Lovers to The Black Lips and beyond.

“To Find Out” is perfect imperfection. A song which belongs next to “Louie, Louie,” “Psychotic Reactions” and “Wild Thing” in the perennial canon of primordial fuzz. If it weren’t for Tim Warren and his mandatory “Back From The Grave” compilations, “To Find Out” might have died that night with the Keggs’ lead singer (or guitarist). Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. words / e o’keefe

The Keggs :: To Find Out

Paul-NgoziOur weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 375: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Honeyboy Martin & The Voices – Dreader Than Dread ++ Johnny & The Attractions – I’m Moving On ++ Andersons All Stars – Intensified Girls ++ King Sporty – DJ Special ++ Freddie Mackay – When I’m Gray ++ Hopeton Lewis – Sound And Pressure ++ The Upsetters – Popcorn ++ Willie Williams – Armageddon Time ++ Sister Nancy – Bam Bam ++ Nora Dean – Angie La La ++ The Upsetters – Taste Of Killing ++ The Skatalites – Herb Man Dub ++ Lloyd & Glen – That Girl ++ The Jamaicans – Ba Ba Boom ++ Hopeton Lewis – Let Me Come On Home ++ Byron Lee – Hot Reggae ++ Ernest Ranglin – Below The Bassline ++ Errol Dunkley – The Scorcher ++ Slim Smith – Hip Hug ++ The Reggae Boys – Selassie ++ Dave Barker – Funky Reggae ++ Johnny Clarke – Rebel Soldiering ++ Clarendonians – You Won’t See Me ++ Paul Ngozi – In The Ghetto ++ Peter King – African Dialects ++ Dorothy Ashby – Soul Vibrations ++ Sun Ra – Angels & Demons ++ Alton Ellis – Whiter Shade of Pale ++ Os Mutantes – Bat Macumba ++ Mor Thiam – Ayo Ayo Nene ++ West African Cosmos – Emeraude ++ Fatback Band – Goin’ To See My Baby ++ Darondo – Let My People Go ++ Yaphet Kotto :: Have You Ever Seen The Blues ++ Nina Simone – Four Women ++ Damon – Don’t You Feel Me

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
_________________________________________________________________________________

newmanThere’s been a lot of talk recently about satire. What it is, what it does, if it really exists anymore. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, the question whether or not the use of racist imagery can ever be sufficiently ironic has been a noticeably polarizing one. Everyone poring over the nuances of a French, left-leaning magazine (and, yes, its oftentimes crude appropriation of racial stereotypes) has also opened a larger debate, however. Not only in regards to free speech and political correctness, but also when it comes to satire per se.

In the wake of recent events, the writer Will Self found reason to draw a line in the sand:

‘[T]he test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: it should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” The trouble with a lot of so-called “satire” directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.’

Leaving aside the irony of any good, moral definition having sprung from the mind of an unapologetic elitist-racist like Mr Menken, let’s think about this use of affliction as a moral barometer. (Let’s also gloss over the fact the Menken-Self test becomes rather less precise where groups wrangle over who is the more afflicted and who is being afflicted by whom.) The thesis here is that we should seek to protect the underdog, the lumpen few—which is no bad thing, obviously. Satire is surely meant for the bad guys, for taking down the complacent powers-that-be. However, according to Self, if satire is to maintain its moral backbone—if it is to be ‘good’—it can only do so by punching upwards and away from the have-nots. In other words, satire’s shit sandwich should be left for the status quo alone. Thou shalt not mock the underprivileged, the put upon, the uncomfortable…

My rather more succinct definition of ‘good’ satire is Randy Newman. Others may throw around more technical, more literary names (Juvenal and Horace, the Minippean, the Hogarthean), but I prefer Newman’s name because of what it represents in regards to the art of satire. Show me any recent think piece about what good satire is or is meant to be and my response is invariably going to be Well, what about Randy Newman? And that’s because, when we talk about Newman’s satirical songwriting, we are necessarily talking about more than straight mockery and poking fun. This is about making you feel something alongside the laughter. It’s about stripping away pretense in less-than-obvious ways and making you swallow hard facts. More importantly, it’s about never being made comfortable.

Let’s get Newman’s best known song, “Short People”, out of the way first, as it both is and isn’t the kind of exemplary Randy Newman satire I want to discuss. It was such a staple of the late-Seventies (kept out of Billboard’s number one spot by no less than “Staying Alive”) that very little recap is needed. Suffice it to say, the song’s narrator has a thing against short people. What we are offered in the lyrics is a laundry list of grievances, all the result of short people with their ‘grubby little fingers’ and ‘nasty little teeth’. So, at first glance anyway, this would seem like comedy very much at the expense of the little man. (The song pushed enough buttons to get legislation drafted in Maryland to keep it off the airwaves). Admittedly not quite as sophisticated as Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, the irony was still lost on some listeners. On the face of it, these lyrics are offensive, aren’t they? Don’t short people have a hard enough time without a bouncy song poking fun at their shortcomings? What was frequently missed was the characteristic double-ness of Newman’s satire. The laughable stupidity of the song’s prejudice is the un-laughable stupidity inherent in all prejudice. Once that central irony is appreciated, we can see that the target isn’t demonic little people, it is our own prejudicial stupidity. The butt of the joke is all of us.

As Newman himself has explained in a number of interviews, it’s too easy to say ‘prejudice is bad’ and have done with the issue. ‘I find it more natural to do it in an indirect way by having a character who states the case. I always think the audience is a little brighter than some of the people in my songs.’

That sense of the indirect route, of Newman-ian Double-ness, is a fundamental to his satirical songs. In “Davy the Fat Boy” we find a carnival barker who exploits the rotundity of an orphaned ‘friend’ for monetary gain. Drawn into the sideshow, listeners are held to account. Again the finger points at us (‘I think we can persuade him to do/The famous fat boy dance for you.’) Another great example is what might be considered Newman’s first satirical masterpiece—”Sail Away.” There too we find a huckster disguising cruelty underneath a sheen of philanthropy and communal spirit: ‘In America, you get food to eat/Won’t have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet/You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day/You all gonna be an American.’  You want irony? Well, imagine a slave trader backed by a string arrangement as sweepingly gorgeous as anything by Aaron Copland. Imagine him laying down a piano figure filled with the ghosts of Stephen Forster and Hoagy Carmichael and singing the praises of ‘the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake.’ It is unsettling, almost painful, the way the song balances a slave trader’s reassurances (‘In America every man is free’) with something musically so beautiful that it makes us want to get on the boat. And all this despite Newman’s treading very sensitive ground indeed (‘climb aboard little wog, sail away with me’). We know this history, we know the suffering it was predicated upon and how it turned out. But the song works as great satire because it doesn’t let us off the hook so easily.

We don’t laugh at this style of irony and find our moral superiority still intact. The funniness gives way to darker truths. Try listening to “Rednecks“, for example (the epitome of an ironic Newman-esque one-two punch) and remain sitting comfortably. You might even laugh with relief at the first couple verses and the pot-shots taken at the ‘good ol’ boys from Tennessee,’ but come the final chorus, Newman makes sure the irony is pointed squarely at you.

Religion isn’t off limits for Newman, either—but you have to be mindful of the way his brand of satire deals with this subject matter, particularly in “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)”, the song that closes-out the Sail Away (1972) album.

Randy Newman :: God’s Song

By this point in the album, we’ve already heard an unadulterated song of praise (‘He Gives Us All His Love’) and a bleak, atheistic lament (‘Old Man’), but ‘God’s Song’ shuts the door on unquestioning faith and shuts it hard. Satirical to its core, it is also serves up one of Newman’s darkest ironies—and does so in no less a voice than that of god Himself. The song’s subtitle hints knowingly at Threepenny Opera’s ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive?’ but what we get musically-speaking is closer to “St James Infirmary Blues“: just solo piano and voice, along with a faintly tapping foot reminiscent of John Lee Hooker. On the face of it, it’s a bluesy dirge sounding the death knell for the very concept of a compassionate God. A theodicy to end all theodicies. If Dylan rooted his Americana in the story Abraham and Isaac, Newman now pushes it even further back, to the first murder, the first conscious act of violence and cruelty.

JAG260Calgary’s Viet Cong arrived fully formed with last year’s Mexican Summer release, Cassette. But on their self-titled Jagjaguwar debut, it is clear they have grown even tighter and more sure-footed in the short time that has passed. Teasing the new release with “Continental Shelf” and “Silhouettes,” two crystalline cuts of damaged coldwave and an Echo & The Bunnymen breed of post-punk, the tracks only hinted at a record that is relentless in its rhythm, volume and intensity.

The album opens with “Newspaper Spoons,” a brutal kick in the face of propulsive, distorted drums and industrial melody, which unfolds into a beautiful wash of synths. “Pointless Experience” maintains this harsh texture with a driving krautrock groove before sliding into “Bunker Buster” — a Television-esque guitar jam, angular and unbridled. The 11-minute album closer “Death” is a shape-shifting epic and will be one of many reasons that this band will have a frenzied live show this year. But it’s the album’s centerpiece “March of Progress” that is the true highlight. An unflinching drone of pulsating rhythm and faded synths, a kaleidoscopic harmony appears midway through comprised of psych-folk vocals and gorgeously reverberating six-string as they sing, “maybe you just need someone to keep you warm/with fire/coming from a different sun.” It’s a tender and inviting moment on a record that is not full of them. It’s also just enough respite to send you right back into the fierce. words / c depasquale

Viet Cong :: March of Progress

prassOn Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Prass’ self-titled album, every song is like a tiny miracle. Helmed by producer Matthew E. White and his Richmond, Virginia-based studio/band/label, Spacebomb, the album features lush string arrangements, jazzy overtones and classic R&B horns. But White could make almost anyone sound good. What sets Prass far apart is the maturity of her songwriting; her elegant, woodwind-esque voice and absolute feel for phrasing.

These are introspective breakup songs that deal with losing the upper hand in a relationship. It’s the kind of gospel-tinged country-pop that Nashville produced in the ’60s with artists like Brenda Lee and Skeeter Davis, though Prass’ voice has a little more Dusty Springfield in its almost-whispered and airy falsetto.

Yet Prass has clearly moved beyond those stylistic comparisons. A few years ago, she recorded a set of stark videos that would foreshadow her new musical direction. In an empty room with just her voice and the distorted bell tones of a Wurlitzer, she sounded more like James Blake or D’Angelo than her Nashville contemporaries.

One of the songs from that session winds up on the new album as the opener “My Baby Don’t Understand Me.” The song poses a practical question in the face of losing love — “What do you do when that happens?” — before turning an everyday thought on its head: “Where do you go when the only home you know is with a stranger?” Another song, “Why Don’t You Believe In Me,” follows a similar emotional line of questioning: “Why don’t you believe in me? What did I do?” Prass asks, before filling in the painful blanks herself: “You need something new.”

There’s an impressive stylistic range here as well. “Christy,” with harp and an unexpected chamber feel, evokes Mark Mothersbaugh’s film scoring, Scott Walker and Tom Waits’ Alice. “Reprise” takes a cue from ’60s girl groups, while “It Is You” tries on Disneyfication with only a hint of irony.

For his part, White’s gift as a producer is to create a multi-layered world that the listener is able to unravel bit by bit with each listen. The album seems to have been years in the making. I first heard demos a few years ago, though it’s clear that Prass and White (friends since high school) have been laboring heavily over the design since then. This is the type of album where every song is so good, it must have been nearly impossible to pick the singles. It’s only January, but this already feels like one of the best albums of the year. words / d inman

Natalie Prass :: My Baby Don’t Understand Me

jimwhite_vs_phb_takeitlikeaman_sm_1_2Jim White once told me that his ideal situation as a songwriter would be to make a record of other people recording his songs. And given the bits of himself that have leaked out through his six full-length albums, it’s not surprising to think of him being the introvert, of wanting to share his ideas, but perhaps not through his own voice on his own stage. Thankfully, he never fully embraced that idea given how perfect his own spoken and sung voice is for his written words, but his newest album, Take It Like a Man, a collaboration with Athens, Georgia’s Packway Handle Band, is a good example of how his sought anonymity within the music could generate amazing results.

This is not to say that this is not a Jim White record. His name appears above the title for a reason. His lead vocals, however, are restricted to only five of the 11 songs on the album. And that’s something to get used to. But the Packway Handle Band proves to be an amazing compliment to White’s music and lyrics.

Clocking in at less than 40 minutes, Take It Like a Man is a rambling chase. It comes up to speed through the mystical feel of “Smack Dab in a Big Tornado,” a song with imagery familiar to long-time fans of White’s work, hitting its first stride with “Corn Pone Refugee,” a song that relishes in its word play. “I could not help myself, tugging on them strings,” White sings with the gallop of Packway behind him both musically and vocally. What sounds in a lot of ways like a traditional bluegrass romp is transformed with White’s distinctive imagery and vocal delivery.

Jim White And The Packway Handle Band :: Corn Pone Refugee

The album shines especially when it both revisits and re-imagines some of White’s earlier work. Two songs previously released are performed here. “Jim 3:16,” a version of which appeared on the 2009 live EP A Funny Little Cross to Bear, is fantastic in this setting, the refrain of “A bar is just a church where they serve beer,” having its simple truth underlined by the full instrumentation. Digging back even deeper to White’s first LP, “Wordmule Revisited” is exactly as the title proclaims, a re-examination of the Wrong-Eyed Jesus stand-out. Here, the original’s creaky, fractured production is straightened out into a jam that carries a hoarse sounding small-choir of voices. Where the original sounded like free association funneled through a filter of smiling insanity, the remake finds the song to be much more foreboding. Maybe it’s the more intense instrumentation – the Packway Handle Band is a ridiculously well oiled machine on this album – or the spoken lines among the sung that add to the menace. The overall feel is ratcheted up and it’s a tremendous song that stands on its own against the original’s broken brilliance.

Sad news from the camp of kosmische/space music/soundtrack pioneers Tangerine Dream today regarding the passing of founding member Edgar Froese.

“Dear Friends, this is a message to you we are deeply sorry for. On January 20th, Tuesday afternoon, Edgar Froese suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from the effects of a pulmonary embolism in Vienna. The sadness in our hearts is immense. Edgar once said: “There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.”

Tangerine Dream was a defining band in the “Berlin School” movement, pushing forward Krautrock, new age, and ambient sounds. In the 1980s, Tangerine Dream provided the soundtrack to films like Legend, Risky Business, Sorcerer, Near Dark and many more. In a 2010 interview with The Quietus‘ Ben Hewitt Froese distanced Tangerine Dream from “electronic music,” saying “Such music emphasizes the intellect and is normally produced as a pure studio event. Working with synthesizers is a completely different approach to electrified music. We’re open to all kinds of modern music developments and wouldn’t be interested in the locked up situation you’re into while working in a musical ivory tower.” words / j woodbury

rollingstones051112w

While it existed as a poorly edited rough cut on rough quality bootlegs for many years, thankfully the historically important and downright amazing Charlie Is My Darling is now available on a coherent and highly official DVD. Charlie documents the Rolling Stones at the peak of mod mania, touring Ireland in the fall of 1965 and performing to both riotous youngsters and at least one young priest. In addition to the on-stage rushes, there is some priceless footage of the band on the road, on trains, and backstage (oftentimes sending up The Beatles and Elvis Presley).

Beyond the obvious fact that this performance is filled with some of the most aggressive, raw, powerful and downright majestic music of the Stones career, I’m struck with some less obvious things as well. There are very few places to HEAR Brian Jones speak, other than his introduction of The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey two years after this movie was shot. While Brian (still very much the de facto musical guiding light of the Stones in ’65) is well represented in print interviews, his interview sequences in Charlie show his introspective, ethereal , and cerebral personality in full flight and demonstrate the charisma that made him the most popular member of the Stones. I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that this performance will be celebrating its 50th birthday in a few months. Any day of the week, anywhere in the world, and every day of those past 50 years, bands of varying abilities have hashed out their own version of not only a similar sound, but a similar look as well. Sure, rock ‘n roll may not be a young person’s game anymore (with most musicians and fans in the contemporary garage/ psych/ whatever you wanna call it being significantly older than the Stones are here), this is still a sound and image that seemingly hasn’t dated. A far cry from the culture of 1915 vs 1965; music and style couldn’t have been more different.

Calling this performance proto-punk would be an insult; this is some of the most exciting music that can be seen or heard anywhere, anytime. 50 years on. words / d see

aquarium drunkardOur weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 374: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The Allah-Las – Busman’s Holiday ++ B.F. Trike – Be Free ++ Dinosaurs – Sinister Purpose ++ Flaming Groovies – Golden Clouds ++ The Ramones – Oh Oh I Love Her So ++ The Nerves – Stand Back And Take A Good Look (Demo) ++ Chris Spedding – Bored Bored ++ The Lovin’ – I’m In Command ++ Giant Jelly Bean Copout – Awake In A Dream ++ Velvet Underground – I Found A Reason (Demo) ++ Mahmoud Ahmed – Wogenie ++ Agincourt – Mirabella ++ Trap Door – £™ ++ Human Expression – Calm Me Down ++ J.J. Cale – In Our Time ++ West Coast Consortium – Listen To The Man ++ Wimple Winch – The Last Hooray ++ The Squires w/ Neil Young – I’ll Love You Forever ++ Erasmos Carlos – Grilos ++ Lazy Smoke – There Was A Time ++ Bob Lind – Cool Summer ++ Nico Gomez And His Afro Percussion, Inc. – El Condor Pasa ++ Ted Lucas – Now That I Know ++ The Troggs – Push It Up To Me ++ The Flying Burrito Brothers – Tried So Hard ++ The Equals – Can’t Find A Girl To Love Me ++ The Dovers – About Me ++ The Blue Rondos – Little Baby ++ Margo Guryan – Sunday Morning ++ Neil Diamond – Someday Baby ++ Brinsley Schwartz – Hymn To Me ++ Creation – How Does It Feel To Feel ++ Jonathan Halper – Leaving My Old Life Behind ++ Blue Things – High Life ++ Chico Buarque – Funeral De Um Lavrador ++ Arzachel – Queen St Gang ++ Savages – I Believe ++ Druids Of Stonehenge – Speed ++ Flamin Groovies – Shake Some Action ++ Kim Jung Mi – Oh Heart ++ Misunderstood – I Can Take You To The Sun ++ The Allah Las – Da Vida Voz

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
__________________________________________________________________________________